You’re probably now all too familiar with the concept once blazoned heroically on a T-shirt: BRUNCH IS FOR ASSHOLES. In fact, you might have read a similar sentiment in the New York Times. And while the Gray Lady’s David Shaftel does a good job summing up the recent brunch backlash and its social significance (even if he did change the word to "jerks"), he almost completely skips over the service industry. I’m willing to bet ol' Dave never worked a brunch shift in his life.
I, on the other hand, opened brunch every weekend (including three-day weekends, if it was a holiday) for the better part of FOUR years. Which is to say, brunch and I are intimately familiar, much in the same way that little Regan MacNeil was intimately familiar with Lucifer in The Exorcist. In fact, I worked behind the bar (which also served food), so I got both the server’s and the bartender’s perspective on this toxic shift. And I’m here to tell you, unequivocally, that brunch is, in fact, for assholes.
There are myriad reasons why brunch, in comparison to other, more civilized shifts, is such a complete fucking wanker. Let us explore this in detail:
No one at brunch is happy
The cooks -- who, mind you, are there at least an hour before anyone else in the restaurant -- aren’t happy to be there for various reasons (more on that in a sec), the servers and bartenders aren’t happy to be there because they know they’ll be working a harder shift for less pay than they would during dinner, not to mention the early call time, and none of the patrons are happy because they’re almost always hungover, hangry, and impatient. It’s a cauldron of woeful misery.
You see, the phrase “brunch is for assholes” doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who has ever gone out for brunch is an asshole, although God knows there are plenty of those. It’s that brunch, as a meal and as a shift, turns people into assholes, both patrons and staff alike. There’s something deeply nefarious about brunch that changes people, that transforms them, people who would be perfectly lovely and pleasant during a nice dinner at a nice restaurant, but metamorphose into insufferable dickbags when it comes to that meal malignantly crammed between breakfast and lunch.
And it all starts with the glassware
Where I worked, every guest was marked with a glass of water and a menu when they sat down. Then they’d want a Bloody Mary or a mimosa, of course, after which they’d order coffee, or better still, the prix fixe brunch that included both coffee AND orange juice. And then maybe they want to sample one of the restaurant’s approximately 300 whiskeys, the bar’s specialty. So eventually, you have four or five different pieces of glassware for a single person, meaning that when the restaurant gets crammed with moaning brunch zombies, it’s a constant scramble to turn over glassware, which the floor and the bar tend to fight over like hyenas snarling over a scrap of zebra flesh. And let’s not even begin to discuss flatware and napkins.
Of course, you want more coffee
During dinner, generally speaking, no one wants coffee until after the meal, and even then not everybody cares for it. EVERYONE at brunch wants coffee, and they want it NOW. That means keeping fresh carafes coming up from the prep area downstairs, not to mention constantly refilling creamers and sugar caddies, only to have them rapidly depleted once more, renewing the cycle. It’s like the myth of Sisyphus, but with caffeine and aspartame.
So. Many. Bloodies.
Speaking of drinks everyone wants, there are Bloody Marys, which were insanely popular at my restaurant because, aside from the fact that they were bourbon-based, we made them from scratch. Ever grate eight ounces of horseradish on a micro plane? Here’s what it’s like: Peel the skin off a root, like ginger. Then set it down and hose yourself in the face with the kind of chemical deterrent that animal control officers use on bears. I eventually learned to wear goggles, much to the amusement of the kitchen and floor staff. If that doesn’t sour your mood, I don’t know what will.
The pace is brutal
With a faster turnover -- it takes much less time to cook and serve pancakes and omelettes than it does to perfectly sear and plate a duck breast, for instance -- the hustle to constantly clear and reset tables and seats at the bar is intense, invariably resulting in you getting half-masticated eggs or biscuits with gravy or flecks of yogurt on your person throughout the day. It’s disgusting.
So, you want a special order? Oh, goodie.
Again, compared to dinner service, diners tend to make significantly more special requests of the kitchen during brunch. Basic substitutions -- salad for home fries, say -- are fine, but when I have to go into the kitchen to tell the chef that you want your eggs “fried, but with the yolk broken, and not too well done,” the meter on my bile-gauge tends to spike. It’s as though people feel that if they don’t order their eggs exactly as they make them at home, the earth will give way beneath their feet and they’d be sucked into the planet’s molten core. You don’t give the chef explicit instructions on how to prepare your sous vide veal shank at dinner, you just trust that he or she knows what they’re doing, and you order what’s on the menu without having to make it painstakingly personal. So why the urgent need to do so now? Quit being an asshole.
Wait, and you're allergic to roasted red pepper flakes? Really?
If a peanut will send you into anaphylactic shock, we’ll be exceptionally careful not to feed you any, because we generally don’t like guests dying in the middle of service. But don’t claim you suffer from clearly fictional allergies when you simply don’t like something and you want the chef to show you special attention. A brunch patron once haughtily declared that she was allergic to egg yolks, but not egg whites, and the chef was apoplectic. Seriously, can you blame him?
But you know what’s really the worst part about brunch?
It’s the kids. No one is more of an asshole at brunch than a human child. I'm mean -- they're ruining restaurants, right? How many civilized parents bring their ankle-biters to dinner at a nice restaurant on a Saturday night and request a high chair? They don't, because they most likely hired a sitter and are out to dinner like normal people. NOBODY gets a sitter for brunch. They drag their horrible little brats in, who then proceed to wreak havoc on everything in their grasp, leaving food, drool, syrup, ketchup, straws, and Splenda packets littering the place like the day after Mardi Gras. But “don’t worry about it, baby, the nice man will clean it all up for us.”
The downward spiral
As the shift wears on, you find yourself increasingly demoralized and irritable, and the fact that you get to work at 8am and you don’t get your shift meal until 4pm doesn't help. Brunch patrons aren’t the only ones who get hangry. The floor and bar staff horde small bites of food to snack on through the day as though we’re war prisoners in a tiger cage. At the end of the day, you wind up devouring your half-cold pancakes or congealed eggs simply to keep from going on a hunger-induced murder spree. And after that, you close out your receipts, calculate your tips, and head as fast as humanly possible -- which at this point is a slow, painful, off-kilter shuffle -- to the nearest bar.
If I learned anything positive from working brunch, it is this: brunch might turn us all into assholes, but at least there’s a cure. Two shots of rye whiskey and a pint of cold beer. After that, I’d almost feel human again.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.